Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Wild December weather in Minnesota December 16, 2021

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 11:30 AM
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Tornado trees” in the Cannon River Wilderness Area Park, used here for illustration only. These trees were damaged in a September 2018 tornado. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

UPDATE: December 21, 2021 11:36 AM The National Weather Service has now confirmed at least 16 tornado touchdowns in Minnesota on December 15.

THE WEATHER OF WEDNESDAY broke December records in Minnesota in warmth, wind and tornadoes. It proved an unsettling day. And evening. And night.

Around 7:30 pm, emergency warning sirens blared in Faribault as a severe thunderstorm rolled through the region. Randy and I sheltered in the basement with our cell phones, flashlights at the ready, and radio tuned to an Owatonna station. We’ve experienced severe weather before. A September 2018 tornado raced through our neighborhood (and other parts of Faribault and beyond), uprooting trees, damaging vehicles and buildings. Winds ripped a power line and conduit from our house then, dropping the line across our driveway. Evidence of that storm remains in a “tornado tree” still standing in the wooded hillside directly behind our garage.

As we waited in the basement Wednesday evening, I braced for the same roaring of the storm, the plunge into darkness. But that never happened, much to my relief. The roaring would come later.


Other parts of Minnesota, though, got hit hard. A tornado reportedly touched down in the small town of Hartland 45 minutes to the south of Faribault just off Interstate 35. And an hour to the southeast in the community of Plainview, another twister reportedly struck. If confirmed by the National Weather Service, these will be the first-ever recorded tornadoes in Minnesota in December.


Strong winds also defined Wednesday’s weather with speeds reaching nearly 80 mph in some places, according to multiple media reports. Those high wind reports came from cities like Redwood Falls (my home area) in southwestern Minnesota and Rochester in southeastern Minnesota. Here in Faribault, the wind speed likely reached some 60 mph. That proved unsettling for me as I crawled into bed and heard an intense roar. At first I thought the sound was a train. But it didn’t take long for Randy and me to realize this was the wind. A look through the blinds revealed swaying treetops and our neighbor’s row of evergreens dancing in the strong winds. After viewing that and with the ongoing roar, sleep didn’t come quite as quickly.

Along Interstate 35 just to the south by Owatonna, winds toppled a semi shortly after midnight. The same happened in other locations throughout southern Minnesota.


Earlier in the day, we felt the strengthening of the wind as we drove from Belview back home to Faribault. Many hours earlier, fog factored in to our travel. Dense fog. Horrible, awful fog. We thought of turning back. But Randy insisted on continuing, understanding the importance of visiting my mom, probably for the last time, in her long-term care center. I questioned the sensibility of his decision. But we made it the 120 miles safely to Belview. Then back. Despite the dangerous driving conditions, worsened by the failure of too many drivers to switch on their headlights. The farther west we drove, the higher the number of vehicles without lights. West of Redwoods Falls, a semi sat in the ditch along State Highway 19. The driver apparently blew a stop sign on a county road, crossing 19, our route. The semi could have easily T-boned a vehicle in the dense fog along this well-traveled roadway. But that didn’t happen.

Many prayed for our safe travels and, as a woman of faith, I feel gratitude for those prayers. Before leaving the Belview care center, the hospice chaplain prayed for “travel mercies” upon us, a new-to-me phrase recently shared by a dear friend. I love that phrase. It sounds so poetically beautiful and so deeply personal.

The weather of Wednesday also brought warmth. Our temperature monitor showed 62 degrees. Unbelievably warm for December in Minnesota. This morning, the temp is in the 20s with occasional snow bursts. I see no damage from yesterday’s high winds in my neighborhood. Even the “tornado tree” still stands on the wooded hillside. I expect sleep will come more easily tonight.


TELL ME: I welcome your weather reports from Wednesday and today. Please share in the comments section.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


9 Responses to “Wild December weather in Minnesota”

  1. We moved to Faribault in 2020 to ‘escape’ the metro for a friendlier community to spend our retirement years. We experienced the Hugo tornado in 2008, as the funnel passed 1/2 mile from our Centerville home. We heard the “train sound” very clearly as the funnel went by and finally touched down across 35E in Hugo. We have heard about the tornado here in Faribault, and were prepared for the possibilities. The only thing I have to report is a disconnected amateur radio antenna, and some broken sleep.

  2. Sandra Says:

    Your report is more than I heard on the news. Definitely the storm went south of us this time, but power outages never take much. Next time. My storm memory dates to the early 50s, my parents were “drivers”, driving rural Deerfield, Morristown, Owatonna happened often. My memories start about 7 yrs, so early 50s, I was peering out from our 40s something car, saw a lonely man leading a cow on a gravel road, walking so slowly. Add tipped hay wagons, damaged barns, got the message. It was bad. Strange the images that stick. Thankful you and Randy got to and from safely! My headlights are on auto, what’s wrong with people?!!

    • That’s quite the memory. You describe the man and scene so vividly that I can envision it. I can understand why this made an impression. You witnessed human suffering at its very basic.

      I don’t understand the no headlights in dense fog either. Just like I don’t understand the no face masks during a pandemic. “What’s wrong with people?” Exactly.

  3. Crazy weather! I am just glad that more people were not killed. I did note that the guy who died from the tree falling in him had stepped outside to smoke… well… smoking can be hazardous to your health! Right on the package… just caught me as ironic.

  4. Jackie Hemmer Says:

    Last week was certainly a crazy weather week, we went from 8 inches of snow to record breaking highs to severe storms. Rochester was in the “Tornado Watch” and “Severe Thunderstorm Warning”, but really we only had the crazy winds, which intensified around midnight. Our sirens howled so we hung out in the basement, waiting and wondering. I dont like nighttime storms. I’m glad you guys were ok.

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